Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Identical twins, identical gifts?

I am a coward.
I know I should be buying Matthew and Jonathan each drastically different Christmas gifts to help them differentiate from each other, to see themselves as individuals.
But it's not going to happen.
Oh, they'll get a find a few things under the tree that are non-identical. I hit the jackpot with Thomas the Tank Engine characters on EBay and got a whole bunch cheap. So Matthew with get Emily, Dennis, and Bill and Ben. Jonathan will get Rosie, Toby, and Annie and Clarabel.
But they inherited a slew of engines from their older brother last year and they already have doubles of their favorite engines (Thomas, Gordon and Percy). So chances are good that they will simply add these new ones to the bin and happily share them.
Not so with the train T-shirts.
(Jonathan chased his brother all over the house yesterday trying to tear off his Power Rangers T-shirt, the only one we have.)
Or the doctor kits.
(One stethoscope? Are you kidding? Doctors don't have to share. Why should they?)
Or the Cars helmets.
(Different helmets could create a hazardous situation in this household.)
So they will each get a Mader car and a Thomas flashlight and a set of Take-Along tracks. They will both get Thomas place mats and a set of four little cars and the same goodies in their stockings.
They will get gifts to share from their siblings and gifts that are just slightly different from an aunt and uncle. We bought them puzzles that are the same size and same difficulty level with closely related themes.
But Matthew and Jonathan are two years old (almost three) and, at this point in their lives, their interests are just about the same. It is not simply because they are identical twins (though I believe that does have something to do with it).
It is because they are little and their experiences in life are slim. They love the things that most toddler/preschoolers love. They have always been attracted to similar colors and textures, and it's just not worth the battles right now.
It wasn't worth it with our older kids--who are 17 months apart--either.
Over the next year, Jonathan and Matthew will start to develop more as individuals. They will experience things differently more often. they will start to cultivate their own interests. We will help them do that by exposing them to as much as we can and encouraging them each to explore those concepts and activities that attract them most.
But right now, I just want them to be happy.
And, to be honest, I want to have a peaceful Christmas.
So, a coward I am.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Author/twin Abigail Pogrebin takes on our questions

When I learned I was carrying twins, I was terrified that they would be identical.
They would have issues, I thought.
All kinds of issues.
And I would have no idea how to help them.
In fact, I would probably be the cause.
I would dress them wrong, call them by the wrong names, place them in the wrong classrooms, celebrate their birthdays wrong, name them wrong, talk to them wrong, listen to them wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong.
Abigail Pogrebin must have been listening.
Her book, One and the Same: My Life as an Identical Twin and What I've Learned About Everyone's Struggle to Be Singular (Doubleday/$26.95), addresses every single one of my questions along with questions I never knew I had. I gain nothing by encouraging folks to read her book.
I don't know her.
I'm not getting paid.
But I have to say that this book is absolutely essential for anyone who has anything to do with identical twins: parents, teachers, siblings, friends, psychologists, doctors, grandparents, cousins.
It has already affected the way I parent Matthew and Jonathan, and my husband plans to read it next.
In a previous post, I invited readers to ask questions of Abigail. Some folks responded in the comments section, The shyer parents asked questions via email. I paraphrased some of the more commonly asked questions so Abigail could address all the aspects.
Here are her answers:

Q: Is it annoying to have similar names or names that start with the same letter?

Abigail: I do think that the “gimmick” of twins—which includes naming them alike or dressing them alike—doesn’t ultimately pay off at all for the twins themselves at the end of the day. I realize that it seems harmless and fun to put twins in matching outfits or give them convenient or cute names when they’re young, but ultimately those things are more for the parents than for the twins, and the hurdle of individuality is hard enough without the gimmicks.

Q: How can I help my son bond with the twins? I don't want him thinking they are more special than him.

Abigail: As much as possible, it would be great to do an outing or activity with one twin and your son, so that he has memories with each of them separately. I wish my parents had done something regularly with me and my brother because we’d have some rituals or experiences that were ours alone. I am close to my brother, but I know we’d be closer if we’d spent some time just the two of us. I hope you’ll read my interview with my brother in my book because he paints a very honest picture about what it’s like to be the third wheel.

Q: Is it better to keep the twins together and treat them as a unit when they are young or to start introducing individual identities early?

Abigail: The sooner you start introducing individuality, the better. That doesn’t mean you have to over-worry about separating the twins, but definitely separate time should be part of the routine as early as possible. I think perhaps the most crucial chapter in my book is the one on separation – called “Making the Break” – and it really covers how twins ultimately have to let go to solidify a separate self.

Q: What we can do as parents to try to insure that both twins get enough attention from us or from any other adult for that matter?

Abigail: Just spend separate time with each on a regular basis. It doesn’t have to be a lot of time– a short excursion with one twin will make a huge difference. But it should be a regular part of life that each twin is with his or her parents solo. Be warned: the twins themselves may resist being apart. But they will benefit in the end by having separate memories with you.

Q: How can I help raise my boys to be close but also have room to be close with others?

Abigail: Usually twins have an instinctive closeness that you don’t have to foster consciously because it’s powerful already. I think the bigger hurdle is encouraging their other friendships. My research taught me that twins can be unused to developing outside bonds because they’re wholly satisfied by their twin relationship. So, as much as possible, encourage separate play dates and social experiences. I know sometimes practically that’s a challenge, but it’s worth the effort. They don’t need to have all the same friends all the time.

Q: Does it matter whether they do all the same sports and are in the same class at school?

Abigail: I have a whole chapter on competition called “You Deplete Me,” and I think you’ll find some fascinating stories and research that will address exactly your question. I would say that it it’s possible to nudge your twins to different positions or strengths within the same sport – such as playing different positions in baseball or swimming different strokes on the swim team-- that would be preferable. When twins do the exact same sport in the exact same position, it invites direct comparisons which are difficult to manage. I think being in the same classroom is fine when they’re really young, but they should definitely be separated by fifth grade. Having one’s own teachers, friends, experiences, projects is crucial and direct comparisons are inevitable in the same classroom.

Q: Is it okay to dress identical twins alike? Are they bothered by it?

Abigail: I have never understood the dressing-alike thing, except because it might be practically easier for parents to buy two of one outfit. It’s not inherently fun for the twins – it’s just a bit of a performance; identical twins already attract plenty of attention, which at times can be fun and gratifying, but can also get tiresome if the attention is mostly about your sameness and not about who you really are. I hope you’ll read my interview with my identical twin, Robin, in my book, because she is remarkably honest about how the “gimmick” of doubleness ultimately felt stifling.

Q: How much do I push them to do "their own thing" separate from their twin? Some amount of discomfort regards to new situations is healthy and normal, and I want them to have that experience the same way non-twins do.

Abigail: I think you’re absolutely right: some degree of discomfort is healthy in the long run. In my chapter called, “Identicals: A Love Story,”I talk about how twins can get very comfortable with having a constant partner, back-up, playmate – to the point where it handicaps them for friendship and independence later. I want to affirm how wonderful it is to have that built-in best friend. But it’s important to develop the muscles of handling the unfamiliar, trying new things, being in new situations, connecting with new people – by yourself.

Q: Should they share a birthday cake and/or the song, or should we sing to each separately and give each a separate cake?

Abigail: I never had my own birthday cake or song and I wouldn’t say it scarred me for life, but I do think it was a missed opportunity to shore up a sense for me and for Robin of being separate people, entitled to our own celebratory moment.